By Desiree Johnson

Killeen Daily Herald

Central Texas residents have organized a series of events for the weekend in honor of Juneteenth, a tradition unique to Texas.

The two-day Juneteenth celebration was organized by the Killeen chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and will include events to entertain everyone.

The NAACP isn't the only organization planning celebration events. The Word of Life Substance Abuse Center, in conjunction with Westside Baptist Church, has organized a concert and youth rally for Saturday.

"We're beginning our events with someone explaining the history of Juneteenth," said Phyllis Jones, NAACP first vice president. "Sometimes history gets distorted or lost, and through Juneteenth we can be educated on a piece of history we need to keep alive."

The Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order signed by President Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 22, 1862, in order to free slaves, was intended to take effect that January.

Unfortunately, the lives of slaves in Texas remained unchanged until they got the word on June 19, 1865.

That day, nearly three years after the signing of the executive order, Union Gen. Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived on Galveston Island to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves.

In celebration of their delayed emancipation, Texans gather each year to honor Juneteenth, a day created to recognize this piece of Texas history.

Across many parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land to celebrate, including Houston's Emancipation Park, Mexia's Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.

The NAACP festivities begin today with a Juneteenth parade through downtown Killeen at 6 p.m. After the parade, people can attend Juneteenth Fest, held at the Killeen Community Center.

The fest is a first for the annual NAACP celebration.

The Juneteenth Fest will feature a lineup of poetry, singing, stepping and gospel music from 6 to 10 p.m. and a host of vendors available for local shopping.

Saturday morning the festivities continue with all-day events including a health fair, horseback riding, and miniature golf. The event is run solely by NAACP volunteer members, and all the events are free.

Donations can be made on behalf of the NAACP to help with one of the five scholarships the chapter offers college students each year. For more information about the NAACP events, call (254) 286-9211.

The Word of Life Substance Abuse Center event will be held Saturday at the Killeen Civic Center. The youth rally will feature a series of performers, including a step show and drill team competition.

The event begins at 10 a.m., but concerts will continue through the day and into the night. The highlight of the event is an old-school gospel celebration in the evening, beginning at 6 p.m.

Both celebrations are working to keep the history of Juneteenth alive. Rosa Hereford, an organizer working with Word of Life, urged everyone to participate in the celebrations.

"This is a piece of our history all children and adults need to know," she said.

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